The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self).
It’s June, 1997, and I’m spending the summer before my senior year of college in Springfield, Missouri, working at the school library. My roommate has gone home for the summer and subleased her room to another friend of ours, but she comes back for her birthday and we throw a little party to celebrate. There’s this guy I know from the theater circle, Chad, who comes to the party. He has purple hair and a dancing bear tattoo on his calf and he makes the girls swoon even though we’re all pretty sure he’s gay. Chad comes to the party and he and I decide to go for a walk and we talk about everything and nothing and eventually watch the sun come up.
For the next couple of months, I spend every night with Chad. He’s doing summer stock theater and his shows end around 10, the same time my shift at the library is over. I usually go straight to his apartment from work, where we hang out in his sun room listening to Shawn Colvin and re-arranging his furniture ’til four in the morning. Sometimes we lie on his bedroom floor listening to “Polaroids” on repeat over and over. It’s still a couple of years before we both fall in love with Lucinda Williams and go to a bunch of her shows together and learn all the words to all her songs and sometimes just text random lines to each other in the middle of the afternoon for no reason at all.
In July my grandmother dies and my parents buy me a car with part of their inheritance. The first place I drive it to is Chad’s apartment and when he comes out to see it, I lie across the hood, propping my chin on my hand like some cheesy calendar model, and giggle. We take the car for a ride down Cherry street, out into the country, with the windows down, the breeze whipping through our hair. Afterward, we go for a walk in a big parking garage near his apartment and act out scenes as made-up characters, cracking each other up for hours. Sometimes, when we’re feeling daring, we climb over the hotel fence down the street and jump into their pool. We jump in the fountain on campus, too — the one right outside the library — late at night, when nobody else is around.
A couple years later, after Chad has moved to Chicago and I’m still in Missouri, he’ll send me a postcard that says, “Summer makes me think of you.” Years after that, after I’ve moved again from Chicago to New York, he’ll text me: “I miss you most in the summer.”
It’s not that we aren’t friends the rest of the year; of course we are. But if tasting a BLT is like coming home for a country-turned-city boy, that’s what summer is for us. After many seasons hanging out at Foster Beach and riding our bikes along the lake and killing hours on Chad’s deck, listening to Lucinda and drinking wine and gossiping about whomever we know, summer just feels like home.
And now it’s summer 2012. We’ve been friends for over 15 years. That car my parents bought me is long gone. Boyfriends — both his and mine — have come and gone. There have been jobs and multiple degrees and tons of apartments and different pets and many drunken karaoke nights and lots of friends and lots of travels and a cross-country move and many more characters and a marriage and a baby (me) and lots and lots of gray hair (him) and more birthdays than we’d like to think about. And in just a few days Chad will be 40.
The purple hair is gone and the dancing bear was covered up years ago, but in my mind I still see that 24-year-old kid he was when we met. And summer’s when I miss him most.